Pastor's Blog

Sometimes I think that my best messages are the ones I preach in the car on the way home from church!  So my blog gives me the opportunity to follow up with some afterthoughts.  It’s all the things I wish I would have said on Sunday morning.  Other times, it’s just things I’m still processing that have nothing to do with my last message.


So thanks for reading my ramblings.  I hope you get something from them!

 

Wayne Okamoto

Pastor


Hearing From God

September 22, 2022


One of the questions I am often asked is, “How can I hear from God?”

This past Sunday, I spoke on what it means to be filled with the Spirit.  If you could not be with us, I encourage you to listen to that message
on our website or watch it on our YouTube channel page.  It’s a crucial message in this series!  One of the passages we read was from Joel which Peter quoted on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the first believers.  Acts 2:16-18 says,
16 “… this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.”


God promised that He would pour out His Spirit on all believers.  This is one of the great promises of the new covenant!  Whether it be men or women, young or old, parents or children—all who believe in Jesus Christ have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit!

But note also what Joel said regarding the results of the Spirit being poured out on all people—they would prophesy and have vision and dreams.  What do all these have in common?  They are all examples of God speaking and communicating through His Spirit.  So Joel (and now Peter) makes it a point that all believers will experience hearing God.

The ability to hear God speak is one of the great promises which comes as a result of being filled with the Spirit.  Sometimes He speaks as we read His Word and He brings insight into God’s truth.  Sometimes He speaks a word of warning as we are tempted to sin.  Other times He whispers words of encouragement and/or comfort in a still, small voice.  And then there are other times when He leads and guides us in a subtle, quiet thought that passes through our minds.  Bottomline, Scripture promises that we can all hear God speak!

However, we also need to balance our expectations with a word of caution.  In all cases we must carefully weigh out if it is the Spirit of God speaking.  1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 says,
19 “Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.”  One crucial way we test what we think might be the Spirit of God speaking is bringing it under the scrutiny of the Word of God.  God will never call us to do something that is against His Word.  In fact, one of the ways you can increase your reception in hearing God speak is to spend daily time in God’s Word.  Studying the Word of God is like learning the language of God.  The more you know and apply His Word, the more freedom the Spirit has to speak to you, knowing that you will not be deceived by other voices that also want to infiltrate your mind.

So as you are filled with the Spirit every day, be aware that God wants to speak to you.  Expect Him to speak.  Wait on Him.  Be sensitive to those quiet, subtle nudges.  And don’t be afraid to ask the Lord, “Is that You speaking to me through Your Spirit?”
 
PS- Years ago I did a 7-part series on hearing God.  We hope to have the audio for those messages on our  website soon.  I encourage you to listen to that series.

Forgiveness and the Two Hooks

September 15, 2022


A number of years ago, our son Justin was involved in a car accident with our car.  Because a car in front of him suddenly hit the brakes, Justin had to brake hard.  He would have avoided hitting the car, but a car behind him slammed into our car, causing our car to hit the one in front of Justin.  Thankfully, Justin was fine, but our little Toyota Corolla was totaled.  Because the insurance company of the owner of the car that rear-ended Justin was concerned for whiplash and/or back injuries, they were very anxious to settle with us quickly.  So they offered us a generous compensation for our totaled car.  After we were sure that Justin had no medical issues, we signed an agreement stating that the person whom they represented no longer owed us anything.

In essence, when we forgive someone, that is what we are doing—we are declaring to God and to ourselves that the person who offended us no longer owes us anything, i.e., we relieve them of their debt to us.  But what if the person who offended us offers no compensation nor any apology?

Two Sundays ago, Jim spoke about the much-needed topic of forgiving others (Thanks, Jim!).  He mentioned that we can be hesitant to forgive others because we think that by forgiving them, we are letting them off the hook without experiencing consequences.  In other words, we can be tempted to think that justice will not be served if we forgive them.

As I just mentioned, when we forgive our offenders, we relieve them of any debt they owe us; in essence, we take them off our hook.  However, even though they are off our hook, they are still on God’s hook.  In fact, look at what Romans 12:17-21 says:

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


When we forgive others, they are no longer accountable to us.  However, they are still accountable to God; they are still on His hook.  In fact, when we forgive others, we remove ourselves from the equation which then brings the person face-to-face with God Himself.  And God reassures us that His justice will be fulfilled.  Forgiveness frees the hand of God to deal directly with the person without our interference.  As a result, one of two things will happen: a) either the person who offended us will truly repent (and even come to Christ if he/she is not a believer), in which case they will sincerely apologize to us either in this life or the next, or b) the person will face the wrath of God and experience His judgement, if not in this life, at least in the life to come.  Needless to say, God says it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of God in His judgement (Hebrews 10:30-31).

On the other hand, when we refuse to forgive someone, not only can we stand in the way of God’s discipline towards our offender, but God will sometimes discipline us instead.  Jesus had some very strong words against believers who refuse to forgive others (e.g.-
Matthew 18:21-35).

So the next time you are hesitant to forgive someone because you fear they will get away with their offense without any consequences, be rest assured—they will not.  So take them off your hook and relieve them of their debt to you.  However, remember, they are still on God’s hook!
 
PS- One way to help you forgive and to ensure your forgiveness is sincere is to do what Paul says in vv.20-21—to actually do something good for the person.  Peter says the same thing in 1 Peter 3:9,
“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”  Even though doing good to those who have offended us is the last thing we want to do, yet there are numerous reasons to do so:  a) It’s really the acid test to know whether or not our forgiveness is genuine.  b) Secondly, it can help our hearts to follow our obedient actions; i.e., doing good to our enemies out of pure obedience to the Lord can help our hearts to truly forgive the person.  c) Scripture also tells that it will “pour heaping coals on his head.”  Doing good to those who hurt us can actually help bring conviction to that person. d) Finally, doing good also comes with a promise.  Peter reminds us that God Himself will bless us.

But I should mention one cautionary note—Doing good to those who have offended us does not mean we enable the person to continue his/her bad behavior.  I could say more, but that’s a topic for another blog and this one is already too long!

Inaugurated Eschatology


August 16, 2022

Last Sunday I mentioned that Paul wrote the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians around the same time period.  Therefore, there are many similarities between the letters.  For instance, we looked at Ephesians 4:20-24 which says:
20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (ESV)
Similarly, Colossians 3:9-10 says:
9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in owledge after the image of its creator. (ESV)

These verses are similar, but with one significant difference.  In Colossians the old self has already been taken off and the new self has already been put on.  In Ephesians, Paul commands the believers to put off the old self and put on the new self.  So why the difference?  And how does this relate to the question: Is Paul just teaching positive thinking in Ephesians (i.e., thinking positive thoughts about ourselves so that we would change)?

On Sunday I mentioned the theological concept of inaugurated eschatology, but we didn’t have time to explain it (many of you are probably so glad we didn't! 😊).  But it’s a significant concept to understand when talking about our growth in Christ.

So what is inaugurated eschatology?  “Eschatology” is the study of the last days.  “Inaugurated” means to begin or to introduce.  So the last days were introduced and begun by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the Gospels Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God as something awaiting future fulfillment (e.g.- Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; 25:1-46, Luke 19:11-27).  On the other hand, Jesus also talked about the Kingdom of God as a present reality (Luke 4:16-21, Matthew 12:28).  We can diagram it in this way.


When Jesus came to earth, He inaugurated or introduced the kingdom of God.  However, it will not be fully realized until Christ returns a second time to establish His millennial kingdom here on earth.  In the meantime, we live in this transitional age of the “already-but-not-yet” kingdom, i.e.—the kingdom of God which has already been inaugurated, but not yet fully consummated.

That is why in some places in the New Testament, theological truths seem to be stated as promises that have already been fulfilled, while in other the places those same promises seem to await a future fulfilling.1  We have seen this in some of the promises we read in Ephesians about being blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms and about us seated with Christ in the heavenlies.

So going back to our original question: Why the difference in Ephesians 4:20-24 and Colossians 3:9-10?  Colossians emphasizes “the already,” while Ephesians emphasizes the “not yet.”  Yet it is important to know that the only reason why we can put off the old self and put on the new self is that God has already declared it to be true of us.  This is what makes this vastly different from just positive thinking.  As I mentioned on Sunday, Christian growth is NOT becoming someone you are not yet, rather it is becoming the person you already are in Christ.  This is not just double talk!  Rather God has already declared that our new self is our true identity—it’s our true identity because in the fully realized kingdom of God, that is what we will be like for eternity.  God not only knows this, but He has already experienced us in this state!  So even though you are not yet perfect, because of Jesus Christ, you already have a new identity in Him!

Allow me to illustrate this in another way.  Imagine if God allowed you to enter a time machine and you were propelled into the future.  You are now living in your glorified state.  You are perfect in every way—perfect spiritually, physical, emotionally, mentally, etc.  You have one sole desire—to live for the glory of God and every thought and action are pleasing to Him.  But after a few years in this glorious, joyous state, you realize something—you realize that you never finished living your earthly life.  You realize that there was God-ordained work for you to do that you never finished.  You realize that there were lives to touch for Jesus Christ that you hadn’t touched—people whom God wanted to use you to reach with the life-transforming Gospel.  And so you talk to Jesus about it and He gives you permission to go back in time to finish out your earthly life.  So now you are back here in the present.  Do you think you would live any differently, knowing what it was like to be completely made new in your new self?

Similarly, God says to live in light of that new, true identity!  So take off the old self and put on the new self, because the new self is who you already are in Christ!
 
1 For instance, consider our salvation.  The majority of verses in the New Testament refer to salvation as something we have already received in the past when we placed our faith in Christ For instance, Ephesians 2:8-9 says,
8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  Note that “saved” is in the past tense.  But 1 Peter 1:8-9 says, 8 "Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  In these verses, salvation is something we are currently “obtaining” in the present (cf. 1 John 1:9).  Finally, Romans 13:11 says, 11 “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.”  In this last verse, salvation is clearly something in the future.  So is salvation past, present, or future?  The answer is yes!  It is past, present, and future!  This is because our salvation is related to this theological concept of the “already-but-not-yet kingdom.”

The Voices of Two Women

August 10, 2022


This morning I was reading in Proverbs 9.  What struck me was the purposeful similarities of the voice of Wisdom and the voice of Folly.  Listen to them speak:

Proverbs 9:1-6: The voice of Wisdom

1 Wisdom has built her house;
    she has hewn her seven pillars.
2 She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine;
    she has also set her table.
3 She has sent out her young women to call
    from the highest places in the town,
4 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
    To him who lacks sense she says,
5 “Come, eat of my bread
    and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6 Leave your simple ways, and live,
    and walk in the way of insight.”


Proverbs 9:13-18: The voice of Folly (portrayed as a prostitute)
13 The woman Folly is loud;
    she is seductive and knows nothing.
14 She sits at the door of her house;
    she takes a seat on the highest places of the town,
15 calling to those who pass by,
    who are going straight on their way,
16 “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
    And to him who lacks sense she says,
17 “Stolen water is sweet,
    and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
18 But he does not know that the dead are there,
    that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.


Note the similarities: Both Wisdom and Folly are portrayed as women.  Both call from “the highest point of the city” (vv.3 & 14).  Both cry out, “Let all who are simple come to my house!” (vv.4 & 16).  Both speak “to those who have no sense” (vv.4 & 16).  Both promise a luscious banquet of food and drink (vv.5 & 17).

But then the results are in stark contrast: God’s wisdom leads to life, while folly leads to death.

So what can we learn from this?

In many ways, every human being is simple and in need of wisdom.  However, some will seek the wisdom which comes from God.  Others, either consciously or by default, will seek the folly that comes from the world and from our own flesh.

In addition, sometimes the call of God’s wisdom and the call of folly from the world (and from our flesh) may, on the surface, seem similar.  But their foundations and results are polar opposites.  We need God’s Spirit and His discernment to seek out the wisdom which truly comes from Him and not be fooled by the call of the world, the devil, and/or our own flesh.

Finally, both God and the world (and/or our flesh) seem to promise the same: a banquet of food and drink, i.e.—the fulfillment of joy and pleasure.  In one sense, both deliver.  However, God’s banquet leads to lasting joy and fulfillment—i.e., true life.  The world and our flesh only gives us temporary joy and pleasure and leads to ultimate death.

So what must we do?  Pray for God’s wisdom and His Spirit’s discernment, spend time in His Word listening to the true voice of Wisdom, and then, choose life!

The Highland Park Shooting

July 6, 2022


Lately it seems that every week the News reports on another mass shooting here in America.  It’s all too easy to become numb to these horrific tragedies.  But Monday was different.  The shooting in Highland Park was a sobering reminder that evil is not just something that occurs in other places in our country.  Evil is present in our own backyard.

This latest shooting will once again reignite the debate on issues such as gun control and government-sponsored programs for emotional and psychological support.  People on both sides of these issues will debate on the pros and cons of the merits and constitutional legality of various laws and programs.

But how should we view this tragedy Biblically?  Here are a few perspectives to keep in mind:

God is sovereign  What makes these shootings so unsettling is that they do not make sense and seem both tragically random and shockingly evil.  When people are killed in a car accident or in a natural disaster, we can make sense of the cause of these deaths.  Even when people are killed in a burglary, we can at least understand the circumstances of the injustice.  But mass shootings like the one in Highland Park don’t make sense.  So it can be easy to feel like life is just out of control.  But that is when we must remember that God is in control.  Psalm 115:2-3 says, “Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’ Our God is in the heavens; he does all that He pleases.”  God is not absent or distracted.  God is in control of all things—even in control of evil.  He is not the source nor the cause of evil, but no evil can occur without first passing through the sovereign hand of God.

Demonic activity  Even people who are not Christ-followers have labeled these shootings as “pure evil”; and they are correct.  When we read the New Testament, we read accounts of Jesus and the apostles casting out demons.  Our tendency is to think that demonic activity only occurred in Bible days or that it is limited to certain third world countries.  But Satan and his demonic forces are just as active here in the U.S. as they were back in Bible days.  Therefore, to truly help people who could potentially commit these horrific shootings, we must address not just their emotional and psychological issues, but also the spiritual dimension of their lives.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only true hope for the world.

God’s discipline  Last Sunday I read Jeremiah 12:16-17 where God says of foreign nations, “And it shall come to pass, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, ‘As the Lord lives,’ even as they taught my people to swear by Baal, then they shall be built up in the midst of my people. But if any nation will not listen, then I will utterly pluck it up and destroy it, declares the Lord.”  I believe that God is allowing these tragedies in order to get our nation’s attention and to turn our hearts back to Him.  When you read the Old Testament prophets, their message to the foreign nations was similar to God’s message to Israel—to turn back to Yahweh.  God is calling this nation back to Himself.

What can we do?  It’s easy to feel helpless when we see these tragedies unfold.   But even though God is sovereign, it does not mean we are called to do nothing; just the opposite!  We who are Christ-followers are the ones who know the ultimate solution.  So we of all people must act!  But what can we do? 

  • First, we must pray.  We far underestimate the power of our prayers.  We may not want to admit this, but I think many of us can tend to think of prayer as the ministry of old ladies while the real work of ministry is accomplished by those who get things done.  But Jesus, the omnipotent Son of God, was a man of prayer.  If we are going to change the world as He did, we must pray.  One simple way is to join us for our Hope prayer times.  Whether that be before our Sunday morning worship service or once a month for our Evening of Worship & Prayer, join us!
  • Secondly, we must answer the call to share our faith.  As I just mentioned, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world.  God tells us that we are Christ’s ambassadors, entrusted with the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  What if someone reached out to the individual who committed the Highland Park shooting?  What if they took the time to befriend him and share the gospel with him?  Friends, we are not helpless.  We have in our hearts the solution to the world’s problems--but will we boldly take the initiative to love people and to share that life-transforming truth?  Perhaps you are not sure where to begin.  Then join a Hope outreach cohort!  It’s far too easy to talk about the need to reach the unchurched than to be involved in doing it.  Let’s be doers of Christ’s commission and not just hearers only!

A Confession of Your Identity

June 21, 2022


This past Sunday we concluded our message series, “Discovering Our New Identity.”  As we wrapped up this series, we read aloud together a confession of that new identity which was based on Ephesians 1-3.  I want to encourage all of you to read this statement aloud daily for the next month during your time with the Lord.  Meditate on these truths.  And if there is a portion of this confession that particularly strikes you, take the time to read the related passage in Ephesians.  In addition, if you missed any of the messages in this series, I encourage you to either listen to the message on our website or watch a video of the worship service on our YouTube channel page.  At the end of this email, I included a chart that can help you determine which message you missed.

May these truths transform the way you view yourself!  Here’s the confession:

As a child of God, set apart for Christ, I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ.  God cherishes me so much that He chose me before the foundation of the world and adopted me into His holy family.
(1:1-6)

I have been redeemed, forgiven from sin, and ransomed from the bondage of sin and death.  My worth is not determined by anything I have accomplished; rather my worth and significance is defined by what God has accomplished for me in Christ.  God treasures and values me so much that He was willing to pay the price of His own Son to purchase my redemption; that is what defines my worth. (1:7-10)

God views me as His inheritance—His chosen, treasured possession.  Therefore, God is working out all the details of my life according to His good and perfect will that I might be to the praise of His glory.  God has also sealed me with His Spirit, who has been given to me as a deposit, guaranteeing that I will receive the riches of His inheritance. (1:11-14)

God has created me to know Him, to fulfill His calling, to experience the riches of His glorious inheritance, and to live with His infinitely great power. (1:15-22)

I have been rescued from the bondage of the world, Satan, and my own flesh.  My salvation is a free gift of God’s grace through faith, not as a result of any good works of my own.  I am God’s wonderful workmanship, created to do good works, which God Himself will give me power to accomplish. (2:1-5)

God has raised me out of death into a new life in Jesus Christ.  Therefore, God views me as already seated with Christ in the heavenly realms.  My identity is not defined by my past nor my present, but rather who God knows I will be for eternity, seated with Christ at His throne and at His table. (2:6-10)

God has reconciled me to Himself, calling me to also seek reconciliation in all the relationships with everyone around me. (2:11-22)

I have been commissioned by God to share Christ with others, to minister in His power, and to tell others how they can be truly rich in Christ and have free access to God. (3:1-13)

God wants me to be strengthened with His power, filled with His Spirit, empowered to comprehend the incomprehensible love of Christ, and filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (3:14-19)

Because of God’s infinite power, He can and will accomplish all these things and more to the praise of His glory! (3:20-21)
 

4/24/22: Ephesians 1:1-6
5/1/2022: Ephesians 1:7-10
5/8/2022: Ephesians 1:11-14
5/15/2022: Ephesians 1:15-23
5/29/2022: Ephesians 2:11-22
6/5/2022: Ephesians 3:1-13
6/12/2022**: Ephesians 2:1-10
6/19/2022: Ephesians 3:14-21

The Incomparable Riches of God's Grace

June 16, 2022


What a wonderful outdoor worship & baptism service we had last Sunday!  I forgot to mention that all three children who were baptized took the initiative to ask their parents to be baptized, i.e., their parents did not ask them if they wanted to be baptized, rather it was a decision they made on their own initiative!  Granted, Brian Clements had taught them about baptism in their Sunday morning class (thanks, Brian!  You are doing a great job teaching our Hope kids!), but by the fact that they took the initiative on their own made the time even more special!

As part of my message last Sunday, we looked Ephesians 2:6 which says, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”

It’s an amazing thought to realize that God has seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms!  I encourage you to mediate on that truth and let it sink into the deepest recesses of your being!  Let it define you!  Remember, your identity will determine your actions.  What you think about yourself will determine how you act and what you do.

But a second encouraging truth is stated in v. 7:
“in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” 

As I pondered this verse, I wondered why and how God will continue to show us the incomparable riches of His grace in kindness in the ages to come when at that time, we will be perfect and will no longer sin.

Since we will no longer sin in the new heaven and new earth, we will no longer need a fresh experience of forgiveness in response to our confession of current sins. However, the continual experience of God’s kindness and goodness will cause our hearts to repeatedly well up in gratitude knowing that everything we are experiencing is undeserved.  Perhaps in those days, we will have a greater awareness of our state of depravity in which we wallowed before coming to Christ.  Paul already mentioned this in Ephesians 2:1-3.  In fact, pause and think for a moment—where would you be today if Christ had not rescued you?  I shudder as I think about that.  The only thing that separates us from a life of darkness and bondage versus a life of light and freedom is the incomparable grace of God.

But in addition, in the ages to come we will have an increasing knowledge and experience of the wondrous, infinite goodness and kindness of God.  Because of what we now know of the universe, we have an easier time imagining the infinite power and knowledge of God, even though our understanding is still so limited.  However, what is like for Jesus to be infinitely kind?  Are we just as awestruck by His infinite kindness and goodness as we are by His infinite power and knowledge?  In the ages to come, we will come to know with richer understanding the depths of the infinite kindness of Jesus.  It will once again, cause us to fall on our knees in worship of His unmerited favor which has allowed us to experience His boundless love and kindness.

But I also think that this verse reflects how overwhelming wonderful our experience will be in the new heaven and new earth.  As we approach each new vista of God’s re-creation and as we experience pure, overflowing joy in living our new glorious lives, we will not only be awed by the wonder and majesty of God and His re-creation, we will also be overwhelmed as we think about in the incomparable riches of God’s unmerited favor in freely giving us this undeserved gift of a new life in Christ.

In the meantime, while we are still on this earth, let us live by faith as we look forward to that time.  Let us allow our hearts to be filled with songs of adoration and praise as we thank God for the “incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” both in this life, and in the ages to come!